Having messed up my timings a little (went shopping in Bham city centre beforehand and wasn't there anywhere near as long as I'd thought I would be), I arrived at the Hilton hotel, located a ten minute or so walk through the NEC from Birmingham International train station, a little earlier than intended. It was mid-afternoon, I collected my AA pass and then... Well, once the show is up and running being there by yourself is no problem at all. The dealers are very eager to talk to you/talk you into buying things, there are plenty of talks etc. But getting there early on the Friday wasn't a great idea for a 'first timer'...or even a second timer who was pretty much a first timer. There were a number of people sat around the bar area of the hotel (being the Hilton, they call it a 'lounge'). I talked to a couple but I wasn't quite up to butting into other peoples' conversations so I sat outside and read 2000AD.
The 'Attendee Pack & Goodie Bag' was a bit of a disappointment. Inside was a welcome letter, programme of events, menu for Swerve's Diner, AA pass and lanyard, and a few postcards - most featuring characters relating to the attending guests. I'm a little baffled as to what exactly constituted the 'goodie' part of all that. I can only guess at the postcards and, while nice and good to have signed, aren't, to me, enough to earn the title 'goodie bag'. It didn't bother me that I didn't get any goodies, just that it was being advertised as something it wasn't. Next time it'd be better to label it simply as the attendee pack.
The Friday night consisted of a rather long and drawn out talk by James Roberts and Nick Roche about their comic Last Stand of the Wreckers. This wasn't the greatest of starts, if I'm honest. Although very popular, LSotW isn't exactly a new comic anymore and Roberts & Roche didn't appear to be overly keen to talk about it yet again. While interesting, the talk did drag on and could have benefited from a 'host' hurrying the pair along and livening things up.
The later part of the evening was much better. Dan Gilvezan, the original voice of Bumblebee (you know, back in the 80s when he could talk), was a great entertainer - no doubt helped by being an actor. He read a couple of extracts from his books and answered questions.
Then, not being entirely certain if/when the NEC was locked, I legged it for the train.
The weekend proper began on Saturday morning. Living (fairly) locally, I was training it there and back again each day, unlike most people who simply stayed in the Hilton. This had its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand I saved quite a lot of money, on the other I had to carry round my purchases all day, had to watch the clock in an evening, get home late and then get up early the following day to ensure I didn't miss anything.
There had been numerous warnings in the weeks leading up to AA about taking plenty of changes of clothes and coating yourself with deodorant . However, after the first hour or so of Saturday morning when everyone crowded the dealers' area when it was HOT, there was little to no problem with a stench of sweat at any point during the weekend. The hotel was pleasant and well ventilated. For this I was most grateful.
After the initial dealer-scramble, most of the day was filled with guest talks and Q&A sessions. There were other things going on in other rooms throughout the day, though I never ventured into any of those. There were of little interest to me and there was plenty to keep me entertained in the main hall.
Following the trend began by actor Gilvezan the previous evening, the talk by Neil Kaplan - the voice of Optimus Prime in Robots in Disguise - was equally lively and entertaining. The most memorable part being his disappointment at meeting William Shatner on the set of one of the movies and Kaplan's subsequent decision to never treat a fan of his as badly.
The Regeneration One comic panel was interesting, with hints dropped as to how the series would end, but, unlike the actor talks, probably of little interest to anyone not reading that particular comic. I skipped the IDW comic panel due to being way behind on reading that series.
Thinking ahead I took a list of must-have Transformers items to seek out from the dealers. Essentially, I didn't get any of the stuff on the list. I did, however, spend a lot of money anyway. If the empty cash machine at the Hilton was anything to go by, so did everyone else. At one point I heard a group of (slightly drunk) guys talking: "I've brought £300!" "Ha! I've brought £500! It was £600 but I forget about the hotel bill."
Speaking of 'Kay-pow', I had a nice chat with owner Andy, whom I'd asked to bring along some NECA Predator figures. Strangely, no one else had asked for Predator stuff to be brought along to the Transformers convention.
Something you can leave until later in the weekend are the 'rummage boxes'; large boxes filled with various bagged-up loose Transformers, which were to be found on virtually every stall. I must have spent hours searching through piles of those things. It would have been incredibly useful if they'd been separated out into the various Transformers lines to make searching easier and no doubt I'd have bought more things that way.
By the end of the weekend I'd walked away with a big pile of plastic, including a bunch of GoBots and some New Adventures of He-Man figures - items sure to get you beaten up at not only Transformers convenations but Masters of the Universe ones too! But more on The Haul in another post.
There were two charity auctions of (almost entirely) autographs held over the weekend, raising money for Mary's Meals. These were more amusing than you might imagine, with the highlight being the purchase - and subsequent stomping on (see below) - of a Justin Bieber DVD. Poor Justin!
I felt the mistake they made with the auctions was keeping secret what the items were beforehand. I think it would have been useful - and have raised more money - if the autographs had been on display beforehand.
The evening programme began as a complete disaster. Due to, what was eventually discovered to be, a dodgy cable, the events began over an hour behind schedule, leading to many people being very bored indeed. While the organisers claimed that the evening's events would be rubbish without having the projector working, there was actually very little use of it.
Somehow I managed to spend the evening on a table filled with girls (it should be noted that I was there first and they joined me). It was a surprise how high a proportion of the people at AA were women, and I'm reasonably sure none had been kidnapped and were being held against their will. Sure, some were there with their partners or enthusiastic 11 year old son, but most were there simply because they liked the franchise.
Whilst on the subject of women, and not knowing quite where else to mention it, there was a very amusing moment on the door to the main room at one point on Saturday. Two women, staying at the hotel for some
event at the NEC which interested only elderly women (I think it was quilting), were trying to peer inside and see what was happening (and also peer inside my bag as I walked past). One of the volunteers was trying his best to explain to them what went on at a Transformers convention, much to their interest but puzzlement.
Due to the late running of Saturday night, I arrived home much later than intended. Before scurrying up to bed, I had a quick check of train times for the following morning. There weren't any. At least, there weren't any leaving the local station before 9.40am...10 minutes after AA opened its doors.
It was 10.30am by the time I arrived, by which time I thought I'd missed the quiz I'd been looking forward to. Thankfully the schedule had been thrown into chaos and it wasn't until the afternoon that the quiz took place. Gone was the old competition-type quiz from AA2000 that had put me off going to AA2001, instead it was guests vs attendees. After an initial whitewash by the guests, the quiz ended up being called as a draw. Mostly because the Quiz Master had run out of questions.
After one last look round the dealers' stalls for bargains, with a much lighter wallet, sore feet and tired eyes, it was time for home.
Will I be going again next year? That's the big question, isn't it? Probably, yes. Overall, I did have a good time, although I will be doing things a little differently next time. I'd have loved to take my Transformers-loving children to this, however I won't be. They'd be bored stupid within minutes. Oh well. I'm also a little disappointed, thus far, with the lack of G1 guests for an event in the 30th anniversary year. I know AA has to appeal to all eras, but I'd heard that Big Things for planned for 2014 in regard to G1. But I'll likely be there. If only to get more plastic.